I personally found The Merchants of Cool funny because I was part of the tail end of the generation the documentary focused on. While I don’t remember any of the specific advertisements mentioned, I do remember being sucked into following a lot of the fads and trends. As a teen or “tween” as we were dubbed, I remember being extremely aware of what was being marketed to me and other people in my generation – primarily because I remember people pointing out the fact that they had never seen so much advertising being geared towards the younger generations – but I definitely fell for the ads (N*SYNC trading cards anyone?). Because I grew up being aware of all of the different types of marketing techniques were geared towards teens, I was expecting to be left with a so-what kind of feeling after watching the documentary. Instead I was left pretty angry.
As casual observers of advertising, I don’t think anyone really has an idea of how much effort and thought goes into creating an advertisement for any demographic, let alone teens. I was pretty shocked to learn that there are so few big companies controlling the majority of the media we consume. Having record companies, television networks, and any other number of media related companies under a larger umbrella, really represents how incestuous the entire industry is, and how controlled and planned media is. There’s almost no way to ignore a band for instance when their music simultaneously shows up on a radio stations, as a background soundtrack on a television show, on merchandise sold everywhere and on talk shows.
I think the most interesting point that was made in the documentary was the commentary about the cyclical effect of marketing – how something is found, defined as cool, and then exploited until it is no longer cool. How this cyclical effect impacts media consumers I found to be really disturbing. It’s not a new idea that people observe behaviors, or see a fashion trend on others for instance, and then repeat them – that’s pretty much the purpose of marketing. But, the portrayal of the young girl who was attempting to be discovered as a model really disturbed me. I had a really hard time watching the end of the documentary where she was shown at a party, dancing very maturely, drawing in attention and then making herself into more of a spectacle when she realized she was being filmed. The documentary’s commentary questioned whether she was just a product of the marketing wheel that pushes out representations of what is cool, to be repeated by the public, or whether she would have acted and behaved that way, without having consumed a similar image in the media. While its irrational for me to hope that media will become smarter about the kind of images and behavior they put out as cool, I can’t give up hope that something does change, because I think how that young girl was portrayed, and what actions and behaviors she viewed as cool, have only gotten worse since the documentary was made.